Celebrate the Challenges: a guest post
Anyone who works with traditional undergraduate college students is well aware that they are on a transitional journey as emerging adults. As a biology faculty member at a Christian liberal arts university, I view my role in this process as not only a guide in their understanding of biological concepts but also a provider of resources and learning opportunities that develop them holistically. In my classes, I intentionally expose my students to some of the challenging cultural concerns for Christian believers within the context of science and faith. These relevant issues provide them with rich opportunities to examine, evaluate, and reflect on faithful Christian perspectives that may differ from their own; they also hold the potential to augment my students’ spiritual formation process. As we engage in these issues as fellow believers in Christ, I remind them of the importance of recognizing that since “Christ holds all thing together” (Colossian 1:16-17), there is ultimately nothing to fear in searching for truth wherever it may be found. In my attempt to fulfill my courses’ learning outcomes for both critical thinking and faith/learning integration, I search for resources from Christian organizations who model a reconciliatory approach to the conflicts within science, faith, and culture. While conducting a web search for appropriate resources, I discovered The Colossian Forum. I was not familiar with this particular organization but was intrigued by particular phrases on their homepage such as liberating truth, a safe place for the riskiest questions, and a new approach to a new kind of conversation. In reviewing some of the material available online, I first read their Manifesto which described their aim to equip the church to engage culture in a way that does not fragment the body of Christ. I also discovered that two Christian biologists, Todd Wood and Dennis Venema, had each written an essay at the request of The Colossian Forum. I was intrigued because of my awareness that these two individuals approached their specialty area of genomics from differing Christian perspectives. Both essays expressed a refreshingly gracious rather than argumentative tone and modeled postures of humility, hope, and receptive listening. The intentionality of both these individuals to model Christ-like virtues in this context was inspirational. I decided to assign all three of these readings as the last “integration” assignment for the semester and asked my students to summarize, evaluate, and reflect on the content. Since this particular assignment would serve as the pinnacle of our integrative learning together over the course of the semester, I specifically asked them to reflect on 1) the future orientation of the church in its approach to science and faith and 2) the impact of this biology course on their Christian faith. In their reflections on the future orientation of the church, the responses were mixed. Some of my students described a newfound hope that the disharmony over science and faith issues would fade: I hope that churches will begin to have organized meetings where this topic is discussed in an open way and differing perspectives are accepted. Some students were uncertain: Unless there is a new generation of theologians and pastors that step up into leadership and address these issues, the church will remain the same. Still others expressed a pessimistic outlook: I believe the evangelical church will eventually split. As we can see now, it is impossible to get people to think as one. Overall, their thinking was unified in the desire that future generations of believers will nurture the unity that is found in Christ. In reflecting on the influence of this course on their faith, the overwhelming majority of them described a positive effect. One student commented that …my faith has been strengthened greatly by this class because I have realized that no matter what science uncovers about how God brought about life, all truth is God's truth and because of that fact I can engage in scientific learning without fears. Seeming conflicts are only a misinterpretation of either the general revelation from God that science provides or the special revelation that God gave us in the Bible. I take comfort in the fact that God works in ways which are different than ours, and which we may not be able to comprehend. Another student summarized her thoughts by stating: After being in this class, I think that the most significant point I’ll be taking away is also the most comforting – that science and faith are not in conflict. It was what I’d always subconsciously known, but never really hoped to believe. This makes me feel loved by a very great God, who I can see revealing himself in a way that goes far beyond the box to which I had confined him. Education is intended to be transformative, and these comments illustrate why I consider it essential for my students to be exposed to not only the challenging questions for the Christian faith being raised by science in our world today, but also to this posture of reconciliation based on the unity amongst believers in Christ, who is Truth. In my experience, most Christian college students today are seeking a new way forward in these often contentious conversations that come at the intersection of science, faith, and culture. As a holistic educator, I celebrate these challenges as opportunities for faith development in my students’ journeys to an adulthood in which they will love God and serve others. Mrs. Jane Beers is Assistant Professor of Biology at John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas.